On greens described as “like glass” by 1991 winner Ian Woosnam and “pretty crispy” by former Open champion Henrik Stenson, Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman shared the clubhouse lead on three under, with 2018 champion Patrick Reed part of a four-strong group on two under. Defending champion Dustin Johnson, who made just four bogeys in 72 holes in November, carded three in his first 16 and then made a double bogey on the 18th as he returned a 74.
“Two over is not a terrible score today,” Johnson said.
“I feel like I am still right in it, just need to shoot a good score tomorrow.
“I would have liked to have finished a little better but the course was playing tough.”
Johnson’s in-form playing partner Lee Westwood struggled to a 78 while Rory McIlroy who needs to win the Masters to complete the career grand slam, hit his father with a wayward approach to the seventh and eventually signed for a 76.
McIlroy’s last major title came in the 2014 US PGA Championship and he is without a win of any description since November 2019. Spain’s Jon Rahm, who only arrived in Augusta on Wednesday after his wife Kelley gave birth to their first child at the weekend, carded a level-par 72 after dropping a shot on the last.
Woosnam, who marked the 30th anniversary of his victory with a highly-creditable 76 despite a pulled groin muscle, admitted he was taken aback by the firmness of the greens after not playing a practice round on Wednesday.
“I didn’t play yesterday, I just did some chipping and putting and hit a few balls and I went on that first green and I thought, ‘What’s happened here?’” the 63-year-old former Ryder Cup captain said.
“It was just like – it looked like glass. If it dries out this afternoon, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them have to put some water on the greens.
“This is about as fast as I’ve seen it.”
Sandy Lyle’s record 37th consecutive appearance in the Masters had earlier become one to forget for the two-time major winner.
Lyle, who became the first British player to claim a green jacket in 1988, made an excellent start with a birdie on the second, but he bogeyed the next and then took seven on the fourth after thinning a bunker shot over the green.
Further shots went on the fifth and sixth and although he did birdie the eighth, Lyle eventually signed for a nine-over-par 81.
The 63-year-old had shared the record for most consecutive appearances by a non-American with South African Gary Player, the three-time champion who started every tournament from 1974 to 2009.
Arnold Palmer holds the overall record of 50 from 1955-2004.
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